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Posts from the "Ozone Park" Category

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First Look: Woodhaven BRT Could Set New Standard for NYC Busways

woodhaven_2

In one option, “Concept 2,” buses would run in dedicated lanes next to through traffic, keeping local traffic, drop-offs, and deliveries to service lanes and out of the way of buses. Image: NYC DOT

NYC DOT and the MTA have developed three design concepts for Select Bus Service on Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard in southeast Queens, and two of them go further than previous SBS routes to keep cars from slowing down buses [PDF]. All of the options include some measures to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians on one of the city’s widest and most dangerous streets.

The Woodhaven SBS project, which covers a 14.4-mile corridor running from the Rockaways to Woodside, is the biggest street redesign effort in NYC right now. All the City Council members along the route have said they want big changes, and the concepts on display last night indicate that DOT and the MTA can deliver.

Agency representatives showed the three designs at an open house in Ozone Park where residents could leave written comments on posterboards. City Council Member Eric Ulrich told me he liked what he saw, and bus riders and transit advocates were especially keen on “Concept 2″ and “Concept 3,” which would create clearer paths for buses. Here’s a rundown of how each option would work.

Image: NYC DOT

Image: NYC DOT

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“Is It Really The Parking?”: Ozone Park Merchants Spar With Plaza Supporters

A new episode in a long-running conflict has cropped up in Ozone Park: A community group worked with the city to install a pedestrian plaza, but merchants, blaming poor sales on changes to traffic patterns, parking, and plaza upkeep, want the public space removed. A special forum hosted last Thursday by Queens Community Board 10 and DOT gave the two sides a chance to air their views in advance of potential changes. But plaza supporters say the merchants themselves are part of the problem.

A plaza in Ozone Park is nearly a year old. Many nearby merchants, saying it's killing business, want it removed. Image: DOT

A plaza in Ozone Park is nearly a year old. Many nearby merchants, saying it’s killing business, want it removed. Image: DOT

Public space is so scarce in Ozone Park that local children use a nearby municipal parking lot as a playing field. The plaza, installed last fall to carve out some more community space, is backed by the Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services Corporation (BACDYS) as a maintenance partner. Early plans called for it to be installed a couple blocks away in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, but DOT found the design would be better in Ozone Park. The agency held outreach meetings and secured support from, among others, Council Member Eric Ulrich, community boards in both boroughs, and local businesses.

But many business owners in the area are crying foul, saying the plaza has ruined business. They gathered dozens of signatures and outnumbered plaza supporters at last week’s meeting. ”We need to remove this plaza,” said Ozone Park Discount Variety and Hardware co-owner Hasib Ali, who estimated that three-quarters of his customers arrive by car. “All customers come in to complain about parking.” Ali’s business partner, Ahmad Ubayda, said shop owners will be hiring an attorney to fight the plaza.

“I do not want this plaza in front of my business. It’s killing the very existence of my business,” said Khemraj Sadoo, owner of Ozone Park First Class Laundry. “We need that plaza to move from there. We need two-way traffic once again.”

The plaza design, which pedestrianized a short section of Drew Street to connect a triangle-shaped pedestrian island with a nearby block, also extends up one block of 101st Avenue, from Drew Street to 76th Street. That block was converted from two-way car traffic to one-way westbound traffic. The plaza resulted in a net loss of what DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Dalila Hall described as “maybe one or two spots” for parking.

To ensure the plan wouldn’t have an outsize negative impact on parking, Hall said the agency performed surveys of parking occupancy before and after the plaza was implemented, and added parking meters to Liberty Avenue in an effort to improve turnover and access for customers. Most of the time, those on-street parking spots are empty,” Hall said of 101st Avenue. “You could always find a spot if you drove up.”

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The Case for Center-Running Bus Lanes on Woodhaven Boulevard

We can rebuild Woodhaven Boulevard as a great transit street. We have the space.

We can rebuild Woodhaven Boulevard as a great transit street. We have the space.

The proposal to improve bus service on Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard in Queens is the most exciting street redesign in the works in New York City right now, with the potential to break new ground for bus riders and dramatically improve safety. With as many as five lanes in each direction, Woodhaven Boulevard has plenty of space that can be devoted to exclusive transitways and concrete pedestrian safety measures.

NYC DOT and the MTA are holding a series of public workshops to inform the project, with initial improvements scheduled for this year and more permanent changes coming later. This is a chance for the city and the MTA to build center-running transit lanes that will speed bus trips more than previous Select Bus Service routes, where buses often have to navigate around illegally-parked cars. Critical design decisions could be made this summer.

Kathi Ko at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign has filed dispatches from the first round of public meetings, and she reports that participants ranged from change-averse to eager for “big and bold ideas.”

Of course, it’s the change-averse who sit on the community boards and are getting most of the local press attention. Queens Community Board 9 transportation committee chair Kenichi Wilson told DOT that “the only way I would support” the project is if it doesn’t affect curbside parking, according to the Queens Chronicle. At an earlier meeting, the first vice chair of Queens CB 10, John Calcagnile, predicted that the elimination of parking to make way for interim bus lanes “will have a real negative effect on businesses in the area.”

Experience with Select Bus Service suggests otherwise. Along Fordham Avenue in the Bronx, parking was eliminated and meters were added to side streets in order to run curbside buses for the city’s first SBS route. Merchants objected at first, but three years later, retail sales had improved 71 percent — triple the borough-wide average.

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Hit-and-Run Drivers Killed Two People in NYC This Weekend

Drivers have killed at least five pedestrians and cyclists on Rockaway Boulevard since January 2013. Image: Google Maps

Drivers have killed at least five pedestrians and cyclists on Rockaway Boulevard since January 2013. Image: Google Maps

Hit-and-run drivers killed a pedestrian and a cyclist in Brooklyn and Queens this weekend.

Sunday night at around 9:30, a 40-year-old man riding a bike on Rockaway Boulevard near 90th Street was struck by the driver of a Mercedes van, according to reports. NYPD told the media the driver sideswiped the cyclist from behind and ran him over. The driver then stopped, exited the van to look at the victim, got back in and drove away, police said. As of this morning, NYPD had not released the victim’s name and the driver remained at large.

The cyclist was at least the fourth person killed by a driver while biking or walking in the 102nd Precinct this year, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog, and at least the fifth pedestrian or cyclist killed by a motorist on Rockaway Boulevard since January 2013. Yesterday’s crash occurred in the City Council district represented by Eric Ulrich.

On Saturday morning, the driver of a Nissan Altima hit Felipe Castro Palacios, 27, on Third Avenue near Seventh Street in Gowanus, outside the auto repair shop where he worked, according to reports. From the Daily News:

Palacios was repairing a Ford Expedition parked halfway on the sidewalk in front of Samba Transmission & Auto Repair on Third Ave. near Seventh St. in Gowanus when a black Nissan Altima slammed into him and two parked cars at about 7:30 a.m., cops said.

The mechanic was hurtled head-first into the back of a parked Dodge Venture minivan, blowing the back window out, witnesses said.

Police identified the car as a rental but had not located the driver as of Sunday. The crash that killed Felipe Castro Palacios occurred in the 78th Precinct, and in the council district represented by Brad Lander.

This weekend’s victims were at least the fourth and fifth hit-and-run fatalities of the year. Starting in July 2015, NYPD will be required to report to the City Council on hit-and-run crashes and investigations. Of 60 fatal hit-and-runs investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers, according to Transportation Alternatives.

A bill to toughen penalties against drivers who flee the scene of serious crashes cleared the State Senate in 2012, but did not pass the Assembly.

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Eyes on the Street: Reading in Ozone Park’s New Plaza

Ozone Park children read at The Uni portable library during the November 2 grand opening. Photo: DOT/The Unit

The Uni set up a portable library for the November 2 grand opening of the Ozone Park plaza. Photo: DOT/The Uni

The intersection of Liberty Avenue and 101st Avenue sits on the border of Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, and Ozone Park, Queens. A few blocks from the A train and surrounded by small businesses, it’s a natural hub for the neighborhood, but the road configuration gave over large areas of the angled intersection to cars. Last year, the Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services Corp. (BACDYS) applied to DOT’s plaza program, and last month, the finishing touches were put on the new plaza space.

BACDYS, the maintenance partner for the plaza, hosted a grand opening celebration on November 2, featuring portable library set up by The Uni Project, which brings books to sidewalks and public plazas across the city.

Ozone Park's new plaza stretches along Liberty Avenue. Photo: DOT

Ozone Park’s new plaza stretches along Liberty Avenue. Image: DOT

During the planning process, DOT had discussed a few design concepts with the community, including a plaza on the south side of the intersection along Liberty Avenue. The final result creates a plaza that stretches along 101st Avenue, which was converted from two-way to one-way traffic flow, and on Drew Street between 101st and Liberty Avenues.

The plan was refined during public workshops in May and August, and received support from Council Member Eric Ulrich, U.S. Representatives Nydia Velasquez and Ed Towns, Brooklyn Community Board 5, Queens CB 9, and a number of adjacent businesses.

Ulrich’s office tells Streetsblog that a few business owners were upset with the loss of 11 parking spaces. Two weeks ago, Ulrich held a meeting with merchants and DOT to discuss potential changes to the plaza, including a reduction in its size to restore a few of the parking spaces that were removed.

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Pedestrian Reclamation on Tap for Deadly Ozone Park Intersection

Rockaway_Ave_Pic_1.pngPedestrian plazas planned for 94th Street and Liberty Avenue. The elevated tracks of the A train run over Liberty Ave. Image: NYCDOT
One of the most dangerous intersections in Queens is slated for a DOT safety makeover. At a meeting of Queens Community Board 10 last Thursday, DOT presented a plan [PDF] to rework the chaotic intersection of Crossbay Boulevard, Woodhaven Boulevard, Rockaway Boulevard, and Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park by turning two full street blocks into pedestrian plazas and introducing a host of other safety improvements.

With seven bus lines, a subway station, and major thoroughfares that are highly conducive to speeding when rush-hour subsides, this jumble of roads is a safety disaster. Between 2004 and 2008, 207 traffic injuries happened there, including three pedestrian fatalities, which makes the intersection one of the most dangerous intersections in Queens, according to DOT. 

In response, the agency is proposing to turn one block of 94th Street and one block of Liberty Avenue into pedestrian areas. Also in the plan: installing pedestrian refuge islands and new crosswalks, lengthening pedestrian crossing times, and daylighting intersections by removing the parking spots nearest to the corner. According to the Queens Chronicle, DOT plans to begin implementation in September, although CB 10's chairwoman has asked to hold off until plans for the nearby Aqueduct Race Track are finalized.

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Connecting Transportation and Politics in Southern Queens

southern_queens_bus.jpgNYLCV is sending out 12,000 mailers for the February 24 City Council special election in southern Queens.
On the scale of absurd political theater, fare hike hearings in New York City rank very close to the top. Elected officials heap scorn on the MTA, diverting attention from their own responsibility for underfunding transit, while beleaguered straphangers beg board members for a reprieve that depends on those same electeds. It's a cycle of frustration, blame, and unaccountability.

How to change the equation? An intriguing attempt is currently unfolding in southern Queens, where, in less than a month, voters will choose a replacement for Joseph Addabbo, who left the City Council following his election to the State Senate in November.

The New York League of Conservation Voters and the Campaign for New York's Future have launched a voter education campaign devoted to transportation issues in the 32nd council district, a car-dependent area that includes Ozone Park, Broad Channel, and part of the Rockaways. "So many folks head to the polls and they think about how their candidates stand on education, or what their stance is on guns and crime," says Dan Hendrick of the NYLCV. "The objective of this campaign is to make sure that transportation and mass transit are voting issues as well."

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No Justice for Killing of Ibrihim Ahmed

aponte_status.jpgA facebook page apparently belonging to Alexander Aponte. The status was updated via cell phone minutes before Aponte struck and killed Ibrihim Ahmed.
Another story today highlights the woeful inadequacy of our justice system to deter traffic violence and hold reckless drivers accountable for the loss of life they cause. The Daily News reports that Alexander Aponte, who struck and killed nine-year-old Ibrihim Ahmed while driving a huge campaign bus for a Queens City Council candidate, will get away with a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license. Not murder, not criminally negligent homicide, not vehicular manslaughter, not even reckless driving.

In light of the fact that driving with a suspended license carries only a perfunctory fine and seldom results in any jail time, Transportation Alternatives is calling for stiffer penalties to keep dangerous drivers off the streets, including a top-to-bottom overhaul of section 511 in the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law.

A look at section 511-a reveals that there may be some small measure of legal recourse against the Council candidate, Michael Ricatto, whose campaign hired Aponte. It says, in effect, that if you allow someone with a suspended license to drive your vehicle -- such as a massive campaign bus -- and you should have known better, you can be held accountable. However, the meager consequences -- a maximum $500 fine and 15 days in jail for a first-time offense -- are further proof of the need for stronger penalties.

Note that drivers with suspended licenses must surrender the physical license to a court or to the DMV [PDF, page 3]. Did Ricatto's campaign even ask to see Aponte's license before letting him drive?

The Queens District Attorney's office would not comment on the possibility of charges being filed against Ricatto, saying that the investigation into the entire episode is ongoing. A spokesperson said that more serious charges may be brought against Aponte if the investigation warrants, contradicting the Daily News report, but declined to comment on what would trigger a charge of vehicular manslaughter. You would think running over a child while driving without a valid license would suffice.

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Why Let a Reckless Driver Behind the Wheel of Your Campaign Bus?

ricatto_vehicle.jpgThe scene of the collision that killed Ibrihim Ahmed. Photo: Dennis Clark/New York Post
The daily papers are reporting on the death of Ibrihim Ahmed, a nine-year-old boy who was struck by a local politician's campaign bus while walking home from school in Ozone Park yesterday. The fatal collision happened in full view of students and parents at the intersection of Cross Bay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue.

The vehicle that struck Ahmed, described as a motor home by the Daily News, belonged to the campaign of Michael Ricatto, a businessman running for Joseph Addabbo's vacated seat in the City Council. Behind the wheel: Alexander Aponte, a 22-year-old with a suspended license. The News cites an eyewitness who says, one can assume, that Aponte was accelerating through the intersection:

Witness Raymond Sierra, 19, said it appeared Aponte was attempting to beat the traffic light when he hit the boy, who was walking in the crosswalk.

"It looked like he was trying to make the light," said Sierra, explaining that the light had turned yellow when the motor home struck the child.

By all accounts, the intersection is a nightmare to cross. But with all due respect to the distressed Ricatto (Post sub-head: "Candidate Devastated"), the most pressing question is this: Why did his campaign allow someone without a valid license to drive this massive, dangerous vehicle?